Breen Endorses Elliott for DuPage County Board District 4

Tim_Elliott_Family_Picture.jpegWith all the problems in Illinois, we need more principled people to run for public office at every level. That’s why I am pleased to endorse Tim Elliott for DuPage County Board District 4. I'd ask you to take a yard sign for him if you live in District 4. Request a yard sign at www.timelliottforcountyboard4.com. A map of District 4 can be found at www.dupageco.org/CountyBoard/Dist4Map/.

I see Tim as a person who will make us proud on the DuPage County Board. Tim's proven himself accountable to the residents of his community, and he has demonstrated the highest standard of ethics in his public service and in his professional work. When the reformers at College of DuPage needed an attorney they could trust, they turned to Tim. He is pro-life, and he is committed to stand up for the vulnerable and helpless in our human family. Tim is even an Eagle Scout!
 
Again, to request a yard sign for Tim or to learn more about him, go to www.timelliottforcountyboard4.com or call his campaign office at 630-510-4910. If you live in District 4, I'd appreciate your support for Tim Elliott. 


A Sad State of Affairs?

We are now in the 8th month of Illinois’ unprecedented budget impasse. Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills is currently $7 billion and growing. People are hurting, because ministries are not being paid and services are being cut. And the word on the street is that Speaker Madigan won’t allow a resolution to this budget crisis to be voted on until after the November General Election. Instead of doing the right thing, he and the politicians he controls continue to hold the State hostage.
 
Into this storm, Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered his annual State of the State address last week. For 2016, Gov. Rauner has laid out a “transformation agenda,” with the goal of making Illinois government more effective and efficient. While some of these transformation items won’t make the front page of the morning paper, they will have a significant effect on how government services are delivered and at what cost. For instance, buying things for state government takes too long and costs too much. Simple reforms to how we purchase products and services for the state will save us over $500 million per year. Other states and private companies have made these changes, as part of “procurement reform,” and succeeded in both lowering the price paid for goods and services and lowering the cost of the process of buying itself.

You can click on the video below to hear my thoughts on the Governor’s address.

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Establishment vs. Reform at COD

COD_meeting.jpgThe College of DuPage has been in the news a lot over the last year: for taxpayer-funded booze fests and hunting trips, sweetheart contracts for connected insiders, and federal and state criminal investigations. COD was even put on two years’ probation by the community college accrediting authorities.

Fraud, mismanagement, and corruption in state government are not shocking to Illinoisans. But folks in DuPage County don’t expect it locally. So, during the last election, those voters elected a group of three new trustees for the COD Board: called the “Clean Slate,” they were political outsiders who ran on a platform of substantial reform. After winning a mandate from the people, these three new trustees, plus the lone reformer from the prior board, formed a 4-3 majority.

An election like that one should have chastened the three holdover “establishment” trustees. But this is Illinois. Instead of backing down, the establishment doubled down. There are plenty of skeletons they’d prefer stay in the closest and arrangements they want to keep quiet. And when one of the reformers stepped down this past December, the old guard smelled blood and attacked even more furiously.

The COD board is now at 3-3, evenly split between new and old. The three old guard trustees have refused to show up for several regularly scheduled meetings—and they’ve even skipped numerous “special meetings” which they themselves called.

With the situation at a stand off, all eyes are on Lazaro Lopez, newly appointed by Governor Bruce Rauner to chair the Illinois Community College Board. By state law, Lopez must fill a community college board vacancy, if the local board doesn’t act within 60 days. Since the old guard trustees won’t attend any meetings, there’s no way they would agree to someone to become the deciding member of the board.

Love him or hate him, Governor Rauner ran for election on a platform of shaking up the status quo. While people of good will could disagree on who should be elected governor, there’s no room for reasonable disagreement here: the people voted for reform of the College of DuPage via a “Clean Slate,” and the new trustee must be someone who has the fortitude to stand for that reform. There’s no partisanship here: my friends who are liberal Democrats are just as mad about the corruption at COD as are my friends who are conservative Republicans.

I supported Bruce Rauner in the last election because I believed he would appoint the right people throughout Illinois government, to root out and upend the special interests and insider deals destroying our state. Even so, none of us knew that the resolution of the crisis at College of DuPage, the largest community college in Illinois, would come down to one of those appointments.

The issues are clear. The voters are fully behind reform. The deciding vote of the COD board is entirely within the hands of one of Governor Rauner’s trusted appointees. In a year of near-total gridlock in Springfield, the choice of a new trustee is one place where the Rauner administration can get a win: by appointing a real reformer to the College of DuPage board.


New Year, Old Games

happy-new-year-1092457_1280.jpgWhen you enter a new year, it’s a time to take a good hard look at where you are. A key part of this honest assessment is then making resolutions to improve the state of things in the year to come.

Unfortunately, the current state of affairs in Illinois is that the one who pays the most wins. This has been going on for decades. It’s more than just the whole “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality: a prominent political commentator recently had the insight that our state’s government runs similar to the Corleone crime family portrayed in the movie, The Godfather.

Giving priority to special interests and not the people’s interests is how we got into the trouble that plagues us today. Because of this way of doing business, we are the close to the bottom of the barrel in many key categories. Illinois is ranked 42nd worst in property tax competitiveness. Now, some of the other states with high property taxes will compensate by having other state and local tax burdens at a lower rate. Not us in Illinois—our other state and local tax burdens are higher than our neighbors in almost every area.

You may have seen the example in the news of the town of Harvey, a south suburb of 25,000 residents. It’s on the brink of financial collapse. People are taxed to the limit, but the mayor of that town wants more and more money. Years of rampant corruption and absolutely no transparency led them to this situation. Investigative reports have now found allegations of “questionable spending that benefited insiders.” Has the mayor been run out of town and replaced by those who would bring reform? No, not in Illinois. (The “reformers” in Harvey are instead asking for oversight and more money from the State and Federal Governments.)

It’s really about who you know, and that’s a sad state of affairs.

Next week, we are back in Springfield to kick off the 2016 session. There’s still no budget to speak of, much less a balanced one. There’s talk that Speaker Madigan won’t allow a budget to be voted on until after the November 2016 General Election. Nor will Speaker Madigan allow Gov. Rauner’s budget bills to the floor for debate, let alone a vote. If he did allow such debate and votes, it would put many of his members in a difficult place politically, since they would then have to explain to their residents why they refused to compromise and support a balanced budget.

But why not compromise and run on that as a campaign platform? Well, Speaker Madigan just received $2.8 million in political contributions in the month of December – with 68% of it coming from left-wing special interests. Rauner’s wide-ranging “Turnaround Agenda” includes several key reforms that could financially impact these connected interests, and these groups are dead set against them.

The problem is that doing nothing is not the answer. People continue to leave our state at record numbers – approximately 1 every 5 minutes. 

Why are they leaving?

Job growth is on the decline. Manufacturing businesses can’t afford to stay in Illinois and are leaving for greener pastures in our neighbor states. Yes, we need to protect workers’ safety and rights, but there needs to be a balance. The 2011 worker’s comp reform had some very good changes, but there’s much more work to be done. For example, a loophole was discovered that allowed physicians to continue to dispense drugs at much higher costs than pharmacists – often between 60% and 300% more. There are also incentives for doctors to prescribe and dispense more drugs, because they make more money.  Because of this, certain providers win, while patients, employers, and ultimately our state, loses.

Illinois is in real trouble, and it can’t be fixed without some tough and decisive action. No politician has all the answers, but Gov. Rauner has some good ideas worthy of discussion. We need true, sincere discussion, debate, and votes – without any games. It’s time to come together and hash out a plan to save our state.


The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Christmas_Card_2015.pngIt’s just two days to Christmas. The tree is up, the Nativity scenes and decorations are out, and the shopping is (mostly) finished. 

Now, we wait. 

In an ancient and wonderful Christian tradition, this is the season of “Advent”: a planned four weeks of waiting for the birth of Christ. The passage of time is marked in various ways, most often by daily Advent calendars or by weekly candles in an Advent wreath. As the weeks proceed, the light recedes and the days grow shorter and shorter.

Then, during the darkest week, the light emerges: the Christ child is born. 

Whatever your religious tradition, the themes are familiar. The story is one of hope, redemption, and peace. All wrapped up in the image of a little baby, born into humble circumstances.

Our modern world is full of instant stimuli, where everything is presented “your way, right away,” and folks cannot disconnect from devices and technology. Advent provides an antidote to the vagaries of modern life—a small way to reclaim some of our peace and be reminded of our shared humanity. For me, this is a time of year to find a quiet corner and a warm cup of coffee and read, write, or just think. 

We live in the greatest country ever conceived of by humankind. While there are many problems in our state, life is better here than in most of the world. And even in Illinois, the decades of corruption and decay have been laid bare for the people. The seeds of reform and renewal are slowly germinating, despite the fits and starts. (The General Assembly even came together to release funds so that local governments will have enough road salt on hand for the snowy and icy weather to come.) Next year will bring great political fights, from a wide-open presidential contest to numerous state and local elections, along with continued struggle in the Illinois legislature. 

But for now, we wait. 

As we proceed through this holiday time, please know of my deepest wishes for health, happiness, and blessing for you and yours. I’m thankful and honored to represent you.

 


Peace but not Calm

A_new_way.pngA little over two weeks ago, the nation watched the video of a police officer firing 16 shots at Laquan McDonald, a young black man, armed with only a small knife and walking away from police. Two of those shots were fired at McDonald while he was standing, with the remainder ripping through his body after he fell to the pavement.

None of the at least five other officers on the scene attempted medical assistance for the young man as he lay on the ground. Witnesses were “shooed away” from the scene, without their contact information even being taken. Numerous other police vehicles were on scene, but none of their dashboard video or audio has been released—and may have been destroyed. Even the security video from the local Burger King, which officers demanded password access to in the aftermath of the shooting, has a void in its footage during the critical time of the shooting. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in the midst of a tough re-election campaign in October 2014, desperately needing the support of the City Council’s Black Caucus to defeat his Latino challenger. As details slowly emerged from whistleblowers about the shooting, the City steadfastly refused to release the video. Once the Mayor—and those who supported him—were clear of the April 2015 election, the City Council agreed to pay the family of the young man $5 million, with the further caveat that the video not be released. But an independent reporter sued and, over a year after the shooting, finally forced the City to release the footage.

This video would’ve made national news, whenever it was released. But for the people of Chicago and of Illinois, it’s not merely the killing but the cover-up that has shaken us. This incident has laid bare how far our elected officials will go to protect the established political power structure in our state.

State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was informed of the relevant facts and had the video much earlier, but decided to charge the officer involved 13 months later, only after she knew that the video would be released. Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office dragged its feet on enforcing the Freedom of Information Act against the City of Chicago to release of the video, even allowing the City to violate Illinois law in thwarting the legal review process under the Act. And when Madigan’s office did finally issue a decision, it was issued as “non-binding,” which against the City of Chicago, meant the decision was not worth the paper it was printed on. 

Mayor Emanuel has now fired the police superintendent and is trying to focus the attention on State’s Attorney Alvarez, who is up for re-election in March 2016. However, it’s reported that Speaker Mike Madigan will support Alvarez in the next election, so as to shore up his Latino and suburban Cook County vote.

In any other structure, whether public or private, you’d fire every single person involved and start over. But not in Illinois. At least not up to this point in Illinois.

Fortunately, the people are outraged. The press is on the attack. Some have urged “calm” in the wake of this video, but that’s not quite right. Peaceful, yes, but we should not be “calm.” Any person with a conscience and a sense of right and wrong should be furious about this entire situation: both the tragic unnecessary killing of a human being, and the deep corruption of a political system to the point that people will do anything to protect their power and elective offices.

Moreover, this outrage isn’t—and shouldn’t be—limited to folks in the City of Chicago. The same people who covered up the killing of Laquan McDonald hold vast influence over our entire state and its politics. The way forward from here will not be driven by calm, but by that special sort of righteous anger that drives positive change: the type of feeling and thought which throughout history has inspired political movements and revivals. 

We have a long road ahead to turn Illinois around, but it starts with a people who are disgusted by the status quo and ready for a new way.


Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving_Graphic.jpgWith the combatants at a stalemate in Springfield, we’ve been back in the district for most of the past few weeks. I’ve used the time at home to give talks and meet with folks. Many of the groups are young people—schools, churches, Boy Scouts, etc.—so I decided that my primary message during these talks would be that: “you were put on this earth for a purpose, and you’ll be happiest if you find yours and live it.” Another way to put it is that: “each of you has a path to trod, and if you try to stay on your path and out of the brush, life is a lot more fulfilling—not to mention easier!”

One of those groups was a combined meeting of the 7th & 8th grade religious education classes at Sacred Heart Parish. They were an engaged, sharp, and inquisitive group of kids. We talked about a range of topics, from “how the sausage is made” in the Capitol, to how faith impacts one’s public life, to what I wanted to do with my life when I was their age. As for being a state representative, I must have made that sound interesting, because at the end, they all wanted to come to Springfield and serve as my “page for a day” on the House floor.

Afterward, the kids also took “selfie” pictures with me—I’m told you can find them on Instagram, which is apparently all the rage now. (I still resist going on Twitter, so Instagram is a real stretch.)

It’s times like these that a guy starts to feel like his father or grandfather, dispensing unsolicited advice to children and wondering about their newfangled web sites.

With Thanksgiving this week, it’s a good time to give thanks for blessed moments like these, moments of genuine interaction with others. These kids weren’t worried about terrorist attacks, refugee crises, and the crushing effect of government debt spreading across the globe. They were fully engaged in the moment and the wonder of a new experience. Thank God for that.

Thank God that we live in the United States of America, the greatest and most generous nation in the history of humanity. Our country is certainly not perfect, but the bounty we enjoy here is unprecedented. And we’re a lot closer to perfect than most.

Even in our home state of Illinois, which is in the grip of the forces of corruption, mismanagement, and self-dealing, there are plenty of people and institutions of character and enterprise fighting to free her and bring her back to prominence. Thanks be to God!

Hold your family and friends close this week. Have a few more of those memorable moments. Give some unsolicited advice to nearby children. And thank God for all of it.


A Need for "More Meaningful Fighting"

“No one in this body thinks the Senate is laser-focused on the most pressing issues facing the nation. No one. Some of us lament this fact; some are angered by it; many are resigned to it; some try to dispassionately explain how they think it came to be. But no one disputes it.”

Those were the words this past week of U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, during his first speech on the Senate floor. By Senate tradition, a new member does not speak on the floor for the first year after election. While that tradition has not been followed as much lately, Sen. Sasse pledged during his campaign to respect it. (It’s not that he has nothing to say, either: Sasse graduated Harvard, has a Ph.D in History from Yale, and at age 43 was the youngest university president in the country before his election.) Instead of talking, Sasse listened. He took these past twelve months to observe the proceedings, engage and interview other senators privately, and focus on his committee work. He then took the opportunity of his first speech to make an honest assessment of the problems plaguing the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” the United States Senate.

I was elected the same day as Sen. Sasse, just over one year ago. Listening to him decry the partisanship and “lazy politician speech” that has gripped the U.S. Senate, he just as easily could have been describing the Illinois House.

Here’s the thing about Sen. Sasse: he ran for office as a conservative. He wasn’t unclear about his principles or his willingness to advocate for them. But when he arrived in the Senate, he chose the desk of the late-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, of New York. Sen. Moynihan was known as a strong liberal, but he was a deep thinker—one who would question every assumption and bring scientific data to bear on every issue. Sen. Moynihan went where he believed the facts and logic led, not where the political pundits pointed.

The conservative Sen. Sasse then laid out a compelling bipartisan vision that Sen. Moynihan, the liberal lion, would have endorsed:

“This is not a call for less fighting—but for more meaningful fighting. This is a call for bringing our A-game to the debates on the biggest issues here, with less regard for the 24-month election cycle and the 24-hour news cycle.”

There’s much more to the speech, and I was so moved by it that I’ve linked to the video and text on my website at votebreen.com/sasse. I can’t recall a clearer, more thoughtful assessment of why our U.S. Senate and our politics generally are so broken in America today. Every high schooler should watch or read this speech as part of their civics education. Every American of voting age will receive benefit from this speech, as well.

While Sen. Sasse’s assessment of the problems plaguing our Senate and our political institutions is distressing, his message is one of hope, what he calls “not naïve idealism, but aspirational realism.” Imagine the difference in our political life if elected officials and voters agreed that, “we do not need fewer conviction politicians around here; we need more of them. We do not need more compromising of principles; we need clearer articulation and understanding of competing principles.”

This kind of vigorous robust debate is how the world’s great enterprises—whether businesses, organizations, or government—succeed and flourish in times of crisis. And it’s how we can turn Illinois around, too.


U.S. Senator Ben Sasse's First Speech on Senate Floor

 

 

Full text of Sen. Sasse's prepared remarks can be found here: https://medium.com/@SenatorSasse/full-text-maiden-speech-on-the-senate-floor-d70892d29de0


The Truth of the Matter

road-sign-464641_1280.jpg“What is truth?” It’s a question as old as western civilization. But with each passing day, it feels like lies and “spin” are winning in the public arena over truth.

For instance, there’s a new movie in the theaters with the title, “Truth.” Such a title would be fine, except that this alleged “real-life story” was definitively proven to be false. The topic of that particular movie is the CBS 60 Minutes investigative report in 2004 which attacked George W. Bush’s military service. Independent investigations found the story to be fabricated, to the extent that this false report even cost larger-than-life anchor Dan Rather his job.

In our state politics, it’s getting even harder to recognize the truth. Some editorial pages covering Illinois’ budget stalemate talk about how terrible House Speaker Mike Madigan is, while others complain about how unreasonable Governor Bruce Rauner is. And, if you get your news from AFSCME, the primary state worker union, you’re getting regular emails telling you how Gov. Rauner is allegedly trying to put government workers out of house and home.

Even former Gov. Jim Edgar recently claimed that Gov. Rauner was holding the budget “hostage” by pushing for term limits, property tax relief, worker’s compensation reforms, and other items that would invigorate Illinois’ economic climate. Gov. Edgar urged that Gov. Rauner focus on what’s “doable.” That sort of talk sounds reasonable. However, the reality is that our elected officials have been “doing what’s doable” for decades. That sort of get-along, go-along government is the primary reason our state is in such a mess today. 

As painful as it may be to admit, both parties helped sow the seeds of this problem. During Gov. Edgar’s administration, a “pension ramp” was adopted, which meant low payments to pensions in the then-near term (the 1990s and 2000s), with huge payments later (in the 2010s, 2020s, and beyond). By putting less money to pensions back then, the politicians had lots more money to spend on their pet projects and special interests. At this point today, most of those politicians are retired and receiving generous pensions, at your expense.

Well, Gov. Rauner wasn’t the governor in the 1990s or 2000s. Speaker Madigan was in place through the whole thing. Madigan negotiated that pension ramp and spent the excess money. Tough decisions on pension reform should have been made back in the 1990s, but the principle of “doing what’s doable” instead resulted in doing whatever Speaker Mike Madigan wanted. 

When you read the news about the budget impasse, keep in mind that many of these supposed “non-budget” reforms are actually necessary to balance the budget. After decades of waste and abuse in Illinois government, it makes sense that substantial reforms would be required. For instance, the Governor has proposed reducing the state funds that are sent to municipalities, but he’s done so while also proposing to roll back state mandates that make local government too expensive. In this instance, cost savings from taking away those mandates has the potential to even out the reduced fund transfers from the state. That way, there’s no loss of services at the local level.

We started with a question about truth. Truth isn’t in the news reports and the prepared statements taken at face value. Truth in politics instead is found by following the money and the personal and special interests of the players. With a bit of work, we can see that truth with clear vision and hold our elected officials to account.